Extreme Blog Makeover

How do I feel about being singled out for an Extreme Blog Makeover? Really good. At first I giggled: I’d been asked to star in the blogger’s version of  a “What Not to Wear.” But laughter turned to amazement as Jen Brown (Redhead Ranting) and Cardiogirl from Tribal Blogs began redesigning my site.

My blog is a means of promoting myself and my humorous memoir, for which I am seeking an agent. I wanted a cleaner, more professional look, and am thrilled with the results. Jen and Cardiogirl’s work was cut out for them, and they did a fantastic job. Their technical expertise, professional guidance and patient willingness to spend untold chunks of time providing support were far beyond my expectations. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The Extreme Blog Makeover consisted of a complete conversion from my free WordPress blog to a website with my own domain, hosted by me. Jen and Cardiogirl created the header, a badge, avatar and favicon. These will help me establish my brand (God help us all.) They did things that I don’t yet comprehend, like Google analytics, Feedburner, plugins and widgets. They even installed Sitemeter and tried valiantly to explain how it worked. With all the SEO work they’ve done, now search engines can find me!

From now on I can be found at at http://www.juneohara.com/, so you can change your bookmarks and, should I be lucky enough to be on your blogroll, the URL as well.

Speedy’s Tale

They found him in the dead center of a pebbled, sandy path leading off of the beach. “Look, Dad!” Stacy exclaimed.

My brother-in-law adjusted his sunglasses and craned his neck forward. “At what?” he asked. Then, “Oh, you mean him?”

Stacy nodded vigorously. “Yeah. He looks lost. Can I take him home? If we leave him here, someone will step on him.”

Ray couldn’t argue that. The path was well-traveled by people hauling cumbersome loads of beach apparel. Odds that they’d notice him–or, if they did, employ heroic measures to avoid trampling him–seemed slight. Left unaided, the thing probably wouldn’t survive until sundown. And, Ray silently admitted, as snails went, he was pretty cute.

“Where will you keep him?”

A child of divorce, Stacy answered, “At Mom’s.”

“Well, okay then.”

Fifteen minutes later, Speedy the snail was adjusting to the environs of a plastic soup container adorned with one small rock. Two hours after that he arrived, pale from motion sickness, in the suburbs of northern Jersey. At this point, Stacy decided she’d rather keep him at Ray and Maureen’s than her mother’s. After recuperating, Speedy thus set about carving a niche for himself in their household, already home to a 225-pound English Mastiff, a five-pound Chiuaua, and a hostile parakeet named Butchie.

My sister, still in south Jersey, got a call early the next morning.

“Damn snail,” Ray huffed. “The thing smells, and I swear it shits as much as Winston” (225-pound Mastiff).

“Well, what are you feeding it?”

“They eat fruits and vegetables. The refrigerator was empty, so I had to go out for some grapes and lettuce.” Ray exhaled in a gust. “Like I have time for this before work.”

Maureen stifled a laugh.

“And it gets worse,” Ray said. “Do you know how long these things live? Ten to fifteen years! By the time it dies, Stacy’ll have her goddamn driver’s license.”

“Well,” Maureen said, “for all we know, he could already be thirteen or fourteen. And maybe living in captivity would shorten his life span.”

“Whatever,” Ray said. “I’m not housing a snail for fifteen years. Speedy’s going.”

“What are you going to do with him?”

“I’d like to set him free in the back yard, but his breed isn’t indigenous to this county.” Ray sighed. “I guess I’ll bring him back to the shore next weekend. Just put him back where we found him.”

“Well. . .” Maureen said. “I guess it’s for the best. Just make sure you put him way over to the side of the path, out of harm’s way.”

The next Saturday morning, that’s exactly what Ray did.

Midday, walking off of the beach, Maureen and Ray spied a crushed Speedy, partially covered by sand, smack dab in the middle of the path.

“Oh, no!” Maureen cried. She turned to Ray. “Did you put him over to the side, like you said you would?”

“Hey,” Ray said. “Don’t try to pin this on me.”

“So you’re saying you did.”

“Of course.”

“Well,” Maureen said, “you clearly chose the wrong side.”

Lost On the Nude Beach

Yes, I go to a nude beach. With my boyfriend. Think what you will; I like having God gaze down upon my bare (and now quite pink) ass as I watch the waves roll in. I know He has a wide prudish streak, but if dropping my bathing suit for a day is out-of-bounds, then hell is overrun with pygmies. I find this unlikely.

My boyfriend and I are at the nude beach, settled a few yards behind a lifeguard stand. It’s a gorgeous, clear day; throngs of people pack the beach. Mid-afternoon I go for a swim, leaving my boyfriend with his book. Forty-five minutes later I head back to our towels. When I get to the lifeguard stand, I scan the beach for our spot.

If you’ve ever looked for an average-sized person on a congested beach, you know the stomach lurch that accompanies the realization that you may never see them again. If you’re on a nude beach, the panic is doubled, as there are no identifying bathing suits to aid in your quest. We had situated ourselves behind a lifeguard stand; of this I am sure. I must be in the right place. Unless. . .

Unless I’m at the wrong stand.

Could the water have pulled me that far over without my noticing? It was calm; I’d felt no undertow. Still, I have to go looking.

I trudge off toward the next lifeguard stand. It’s a good distance away. The sand scorches my feet, and my gait takes on a pained, hopping bounce most unflattering to my breasts. I move toward the water and take up my journey, eyes searching for my boyfriend. This is also a trial: As I move farther from the beach, my eyes strain, distracting me from sucking in my stomach. When I try to do both, my diaphragm goes into spasm.

When I come to the next lifeguard stand, I cut up onto the beach. I look hard in every direction. No boyfriend. I wonder if I could possibly be looking right past him, like he was hidden in plain sight. I hope not; I like to think I’d recognize his face, if not his penis. Crowded beach or not.

Diaphragm aquiver, I head back from where I came. Judging by the amused sympathy in people’s eyes, I know I look desperately lost. (Looking lost dressed is one thing. Looking lost naked is entirely another.) I can’t even ask anyone to use their cell phone. Despite my memory for phone numbers, I find my boyfriend’s impossible to remember. I quiz myself periodically, but under this kind of pressure, I’m guaranteed to choke. There’s nothing to do but keep moving.

“Excuse me,” a woman asks. “Are you lost?”

There’s no question she’s talking to me. “Yes!” I cry, like I’ve been rescued after 58 days on a life raft without food or water. “I am!”

“Come. You’re down this way. Your towel is next to mine.”

As the woman leads me away, I become aware that my ass feels slightly burned. I think how much worse it could have been. Heat stroke, dehydration, windburn. . . this could have ended in tragedy. Survivor shows on the Discovery Channel, like “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” come to mind.

I wonder if they’d be interested in my story.


Two years ago, I bought a Bluetooth. This wasn’t the courageous act of a middle-aged woman striving to master the latest in cell phone technology. It was the last hope of one whose ears were incompatible with anything else. Regular hands-free devices left me deaf to the other party and caused chronically inflamed ear cartilage. This, coupled with frequent episodes of seatbelt entanglement, forced me to entertain options I’d long rejected. When I got the Bluetooth home, I gave it a wide berth; but eventually, need prevailed. I jammed it into my ear and was surprised at how comfortably it fit. Before I knew it, I was gabbing with family, friends, and any unfortunate stranger who called me by accident.

I had a stronger relationship with that Bluetooth than with two-thirds of the men I’ve dated. When it went missing, I was devastated. I’ll spare you the hands-free/Bluetooth trials I endured over the subsequent two years. But cleaning out my car the other day, I found the old Bluetooth buried under a pile of crap. My heart sang. Now I just had to pair it with my phone.

One day and ninety-four pairing attempts later, my phone refused to acknowledge, no less couple with, my Bluetooth. The Bluetooth that had once filled my orifice with such comfort and ease. Granted, it had been awhile; but I was shocked that my phone could, or would, sabotage such intimacy. (I shouldn’t have been. We’re talking about a contrivance that has a special app for making a call. Who knows what it’s capable of.)

Day two, one hundred and thirty attempts later: I discovered that the problem lay not with my phone, but with the Bluetooth. It had refused to go into pairing mode. This too came as a shock. Was it rejecting my phone, or me? My hand went to my ear. Had it lost its allure? If so, had other orifices followed suit? And if this was the case, would God be cruel enough to let me find out this way?

Amazing, the questions technology can raise.

I Cannot Win a Camcorder

Everyone I know would love to win a PolaroidDVG-720BC http://www.high-tech-store.com/polaroid-dvg-720bc-5mp-hi-definition-digital-camcorder-with-27-lcd-display.html. Not that I’ve sat them down and asked; that would require organization of time and a clear understanding of what a camcorder is. Still, if I get quiet and concentrate, I can feel their dormant desire. And therein lies the chasm between us.   

A few years back, I couldn’t imagine why the capabilities of making a phone call and taking a picture would exist within one technological unit. The juxtaposition seemed alien, like a water fountain dispensing tampons. When people showed me pictures stored in their phones, I had to fake enthusiasm. Yes, I chirped to a client; your boyfriend is adorable. You’re right, I told a friend; that dress does camouflage your mother’s goiter. I wasn’t lying, but my words lacked heart. Then one day I stubbed my toe badly and, in the process, inadvertently shot a picture of my own pained expression. At that moment, any hope that I’d come to accept camera phones slid into remission.

Years have passed since the toe-stub photo shoot. During that time, I somehow evolved into Blackberry ownership and, to my peril, discovered its photo app.    

I happened to be cleaning out my living room closet. Looking out over a sea of old winter jackets, unmatched bed sheets and underused cleaning supplies, I glimpsed my sleeping cat on the windowsill, her face framed by sunshine. Recognizing a perfect means of diversion, I made a fast grab for my Blackberry. There was a camera hidden somewhere in there; I knew it. I just had to figure out where.

Three hours later found me beholding a 942 frame photo gallery of my cat and a living room none the neater. 

This trend has continued undiminished. In fact, the pairing of my photo talents and cleaning aversion has resulted in the steady deterioration of my apartment. Papers are piled about, vases are dusty, and venturing into my fridge is often ill-advised. If I had a http://www.high-tech-store.com/electronics/cameras.html digital camera, I’d probably spend my days filming my dictionary, sofa, or toaster. Left unchecked, I’d eventually find The Center for Disease Control at my door.      

I cannot win a  camcorder. If I do, Jen — of humor blog Redhead Ranting –will have some serious explaining to do.

Anna’s Curse

I’m crazy for books. Always have been. They carried me through a childhood absent of Zoloft, a marriage short on success, and more bad haircuts than I care to recall. I coped with none of these well, but here I am, still breathing. Without books to pull me through, I probably would have ended up pumping gas, sans an ability to pump gas, scraping pennies together for my next latte. (Okay, that’s my life now, sans the pumping. But you know what I mean.)   
At one point, I accumulated more books than I could accommodate, forcing me to sell “Anna Karenina” back to my local used bookstore. How this pained me! Despite my torturous, if periodic, boredom, I’d battled through Anna’s interminable pages just to know, in the depths of my puny soul, that I’d done it. Because, damnit, I had. (For the record, I have no interest in the lives of Russian farmers. Nor will I ever). 
“Anna Karenina” was heavy and thick; it had presided prominently at the center of my centerpiece bookcase. It had announced, in its own quiet way, that I’d persevered through its pages to unimpeachable triumph. I wanted that book there. I needed it there. But in time, my choice was either displaying it for the sake of pride or letting it go, to let new life in.
Ambivalent, I chose to let new life in. 
Witness to my ongoing literary turmoil, my friend Albert, an engineer, gave me a bookcase he no longer needed. On a Saturday afternoon, he hoisted it into my apartment and set it against the wall beside my bed. I was thrilled. At last, room for more books!
I wish my tale ended there. But alas, it does not. Along with the bookcase, Albert brought a digital camera (and tripod, of course. That’s just him) to take pictures of me for my Match.com. profile. He took a few of me in the kitchen. Too blue. A few in the living room. Better, but a bit too dark. Finally we ventured into the bedroom. I propped myself up against a few pillows and smiled widely into the lens. And in these shots, all was pleasing to the eye. It seemed we’d finally found success.
Not until viewing the photos later did I notice it. Despite my numerous and enthusiastic claims to be an avid reader in my Match profile, I was positioned before a totally bare bookcase.
A totally bare bookcase.
I knew there was a simple fix to this. After all, there’s little in the physical world that an engineer with a tripod can’t manipulate to meet his ends. Either I, or the bookcase, would be cropped out. Regardless which, the lighting would be superb.
I told myself I could live with this. I’d have my beloved books, and most likely a boyfriend who derived his sustenance through reality TV. Provided he was cute, with decent hygeine, we just might have a chance.    

The Parking Chronicles II

So. I left a note under VKF 521’s windshield wiper imploring him to park more considerately. I didn’t use profanity, but neither did I leave a smiley face or a cheery “thanks so much!” at the bottom. I was through with VKF’s nonsense, and if my large, bold print offended him, I refused to care. He’d never once shown his face, giving me the opportunity to confront him directly. He’d brought this ugliness on himself. 

I’d had yet to admit to anyone that I’d left notes on windshields, though. The act sounded cowardly and petty, and suggested an embarrassing lack of character. But for some inexplicable reason, I felt a sudden need to confess.  

“I. . . uh. . . just did something,” I told my boyfriend over the phone.   

“Oh? What did you do?” The implicit “now” was voluble to my ear.

“Well, that asshole VKF was taking up two spots. Again.” I paused. “So I left him a note.”

“Really.” My boyfriend laughed. “Did anyone see you?”

“Are you kidding? I gave myself whiplash making sure the coast was clear.”

“Because,” he continued, “if this becomes a habit, you’ll have to invest in a wardrobe of heavy black sweatsuits.”

“Fuck you,” I said. “And FYI, I’m already on it.”

“Of course you are.” I heard him roll his eyes. “So where did you leave the note?” 

“Under his windshield wiper. Why?”

“I think it’s supposed to snow tonight.” 


“They say it’s going to snow.”

I turned toward the window. The steel gray sky portended near-certain precipitation. 

“Shit,” I said. “My note will never survive the snow.”

“You know what you should do?” my boyfriend asked. “You should write up a bunch of notes like VKF’s and have them laminated.” 

“Huh,” I said, and scratched my head. “Where does one find a laminator?”

“Try under ‘laminator” in the phone book.” 

“Thanks, wise-ass.” I sighed. “Listen, I think I’m gonna hang up. I want to go watch the sky.”

As the first snowflakes fell, I considered lamination. It was a clever idea, but was too focused on the negative. After all, there were a handful of courteous parkers in the neighborhood. To keep things balanced, I’d have to write up a second set of cards, like “Great job, Sue!” and “Keep up the good work, Mike!” It could be a real pain in the ass. My boyfriend hadn’t thought of that. 

I took a mental step back to assess the pro’s and cons of this. On the up side, notes of recognition would boost good parkers’ self-esteem. It would provide incentive for bad parkers to follow suit, uniting discordant factions of the parking community. Tempers would ease. Increasingly, smiles would replace frowns.   

The arguments against the project were compelling too, though. It might require more time and energy than I had to spare. Writing the notes, proofreading them for spelling and grammar, keeping a log of people’s parking habits: it was a lot for someone who could barely keep up with her laundry. And I had to consider the overhead. After investing in the paper, magic markers and lamination, God only knew what I’d have to scratch off of my grocery list.     

This was going to require some thought.

The Bat Syndrome

I’ve always been enthralled by the macabre. While other girls were detangling Barbie’s hair, I was playing with glow in the dark Colorforms at the back of our coat closet. (Should you be too young to remember Colorforms, know that I hate you.) I enhanced the terrors of the haunted mansion through the creative application of spooky stickers. As I pressed the witches, bats and goblins into place, I fantasized that I was among them, lingering in the darkest folds of the haunted mansion. Sadly, this always got the kebash when someone reached in for their coat.   

Nancy Drew, with book titles like “The Haunted Showboat” and “The Moss Covered Mansion,” had me at hello. I read most of the series, until it clicked that there would never be a bloody hatchet, a poisoning, or the gruesome discovery of body parts. After a momentary distraction (I discovered “The Joy of Sex” in my mother’s night table) I moved onto Alfred Hitchcock, priming myself for pleasures like “The Exorcist.” Still, despite my draw to higher levels of morbidity, my passion for haunted houses remained strong.

When when I was in fifth grade, the school psychologist, Mr. Ross, called me down to his office. He asked me a series of questions ranging from benign (“Who invented the telephone?”) to mildly probing (“How are you doing in school?”) to penetrating (“Do you worry that your parents will get divorced?”) Then he pulled out a stack of ink blot images. Holding them up one by one, he asked, “What does this look like to you?” The hell if I knew. They were all toss-ups between a balloon, a station wagon and a palm tree. 

Mr. Ross wrapped up the session with one final question. “If you could be any kind of animal,” he asked, “what would you be?”

Most kids probably answered something like a bunny or a horse.  My creature of choice, having an open invitation to haunted houses across the land, was slightly less conventional. Without hesitation, I said, “I’d like to be a bat.” 

Mr. Ross looked stricken. After a long moment of silence, he cleared his throat. “Alright, June. You can go back to class.” Three minutes later, he called my mother. 

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Mrs. O’Hara.” Mr. Ross said. “Your daughter…” He paused, took a deep breath. “She wants to be a bat.”

“She what?”

Mr. Ross explained. My mother listened, then burst out laughing.

“I’m not sure you understand the seriousness of this,” Mr. Ross said. “I’ve been in this business a long time, and in all my years, no child has ever expressed interest in being a bat.” He paused. “I’m afraid that June has very low self-esteem.”    

Stifling a giggle, my mother said, “Okay, I’ll talk to her. And thank you for your concern.”

When I got home from school, my mother relayed the conversation.

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “Mr. Ross thinks I’m disturbed just because I want to be a bat?  

“It seems so,” she replied with a chuckle.

Mr. Ross was right; I did have low self-esteem. But that had nothing to do with wanting to be a bat. It was a reasonable and legitimate wish, and was an entirely separate issue.   

Aggrieved, I stomped upstairs to my room. I propped up the pillows on my bed and lost myself in “The Omen,” where people routinely drowned under ice, were hit by lightning, and impaled on spear-shaped gate posts.

When you’re in the ring…

Cardio-kickboxing is the only workout I don’t abhor. The classes are grueling, but I don’t spend the entire time beseeching the clock to jump ahead, compromising the longevity of the universe. Chuck Norris may never ask for my autograph, but damnit, my roundhouse and upper-cuts aren’t half bad. And to prove it, I’ll never ask him for his.

One morning I mistakenly went to boxing class rather than cardio-kickboxing. When I walked into the room, I realized immediately that something was awry. The landscape, usually populated by my cardio-compatriots sporting trendy sneakers, was instead filled with hard-muscled bodies pummeling  the shit out punching bags. Animalistic grunts echoed against the walls. The instructor, a dead ringer for Sigourney Weaver, was unfamiliar to me. Looking up from a pile of boxing gloves, she called out, “Hi. What’s your name?”

I’d been awake for all of 36 minutes. My hair was matted in some places, boinging out in others. My socks didn’t match, and my brain still felt like it was wrapped in gauze. Identifying myself by name cut sharply across the grain of my wishes.

“June,” I muttered, looking down at my feet.   

The woman cupped her ear. “What’s that?” 

“June,” I repeated, a blush spreading across my face.

“Okay, June.” She tossed me two boxing gloves. “Give the speed bag a go. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

Looking longingly toward the door, I slipped on the gloves and jabbed at the bag. It swung mockingly, eluding further contact. I punched pitifully at the air, like I was being swarmed by killer mosquitoes. The instructor, noting my ineptitude, made her way over.

“Maybe you should start with a non-moving target,” she said. “Come over here.” She picked up a padded paddle, held it in out in front of her and said, “Take a good shot at this.”

Wanting only to flee, I gave it a half-hearted punch.

The instructor lowered the paddle. “I know that’s not the best you can do. Give it another shot. And put some power behind it.”

I gave the paddle a slightly harder punch.

“That’s a little better, Liz,” the instructor said. “But remember, when you’re in the ring…”

Two points: One, this woman had forced me to identify myself by name, then called me Liz. Two, I wasn’t planning to get into a ring. Ever.

When she held the paddle up again, I began punching it in earnest.

“Whoa,” she said. “Be careful. You don’t want to hit my face.” 

The truth was, I wanted desperately to hit her face. So hard she’d forget her own name. I thought of Sigourney, battling aliens in space. She’d be able to take it.

“Listen,” I said. “I think I’m going to head down to the treadmills.”

“Well, alright, Liz. But your jab is pretty good. Consider coming back sometime.”

“Okay,” I lied, thinking I’d sooner try drowning myself in my bathtub. “Maybe I will.” 

It think it bears repeating: my name is June. I will never set foot in a ring.

The Parking Chronicles I

If I continue this way, I might have to invest in a black, hooded sweat suit and even a mask, one from  “Scream” or “A Clockwork Orange.” I want to handle the issue head-on (catch someone red-handed), but have generally been denied the opportunity. Parkers taking up two spaces are as elusive as a faint whiff of persimmons, or–dare I say it?–a heap of dog shit under some leaves. So yes, I’ve been reduced to “that person.” 

A handful of times, I’ve left cranky notes under a bad parker’s windshield wiper.

Here’s my defense. One, I’ve been given no other recourse. Two, I limit my notes to chronic offenders. Three, I limit my notes to chronic offenders. Defenses two and three coalesce, creating the necessity to keep close track of license plates.

This is how VKF 521 came to my attention.      

VKF 521 arrived early Friday afternoons, when parking spaces were abundant. He claimed two prime spots as his own, and his car remained there until Monday evening. As the pattern became came clear, I established that he was solely a weekend visitor. While I was lugging my handbag, overnight bag, gym bag, briefcase, groceries, and laundry a block and a half to my apartment, he was probably getting laid. 

One day as I lurched past VKF’s car, I began twitching with agitation. I stopped, dropped my bags and groped for a scrap of paper. Surreptitiously looking left and right (I don’t want to be this person!) I scrawled, “Please park more considerately,” and tucked the note under his windshield wiper. This was a trial; my wrist was still numb from the weight of a cat litter bag. But I wanted to be proactive–even if it was in a low-down, sneaky way. 

As I left the scene of my crime, pride and shame asserted themselves in equal measure. I’d done a dirty job, one calling for misguided assertiveness skills, a prickly disposition, and a ready scrap of paper. However I chose to feel about it, I’d been perfectly suited to the job. My performance had been stellar.      

I wonder if Macy’s sells cute hoods and masks.